Aug 07 2015 Published by under Uncategorized

Something a friend shared with me:



I don't know that I think teaching is the greatest art, but it certainly is one. And, as is true of most arts, visual, performing and otherwise, it goes through phases and fads and styles. Some of these differences are esthetic and not necessarily able to be ranked. Is Impressionism better than Cubism? Now? But, cramming 10 kids of different ages into a too-small room, with slates and bad chalk, and making them only memorize the same thing irrespective of skill level is probably not as good as other options.

When I started it was all about "imparting information" and making students "as smart as possible". Things have changed. I do remember when the "new pedagogy" started, I instituted some small group/peer interactions in a human embryology course I was teaching. I had several individual and sets of students (class was about 60) come to me and say "we do not care what our peers have to say, we only want you to give us more facts and information". Sigh. I worked at it.

I now teach in a medical school. We have pretty rigid standards about what to teach, as a function of board exams. But slides & strategies that I had used for years are not acceptable. I had always thought that students learned better when they actually wrote things down as well as heard and read them. But, my reviews have always turned up a few "Dr. Theron expects us to write a lot and its difficult to do so accurately".  Of late, they have turned into "Dr. Theron expects us to take notes in her lecture, and I don't think I should have to". So I am busy changing my lectures. I give up on this. Standards are changing. Art moves on. Me too.

11 responses so far

  • AcademicLurker says:

    A few years ago, students started wanting the powerpoint presentations in advance, which I now try to provide even though it conflicts with my "do everything at the last minute" philosophy. Apparently, they prefer to take notes on the printed out powerpoint slides. The idea is that they don't have to be frantically scribbling just to get the important facts down (since those are on the slides) but can take notes on the asides and additional explanations.

    The days of taking notes from the blackboard, which I remember doing, are long gone.

    • neurony says:

      It seems like a bigger struggle every year. I'm always shocked to see the number of students in my large lecture classes who just sit passively and watch me/the slides. Although I post the slides, I also always explicitly tell the students that the slide contents are an "outline", not actual "notes", and that the literature shows that students learn best from hand writing (rather than typing) their own notes, including clarification/elaboration of whatever the lecturer presents. Then they get C's on the exam and come to me perplexed: "But Prof Neurony, I understood everything you said in lecture! "

      I absolutely remember taking pages and pages of notes from blackboard/overhead.

      • Anon Y Mous Grad Student says:

        I don't know that this is something that you do, but in my experience when I was an undergrad professors that lecture from Power Point (rather than writing on a white board/chalk board) tend to talk so fast that it's barely possible to keep up while typing, let alone by hand writing notes. As a student, you are left with two choices: put all of your energy into transcribing/note-taking and do the actual comprehension part on your own time (at which point you may as well be learning from a textbook or MOOC), or give up on note taking and just focus your energy on comprehension - thinking about things as the teacher says them, asking questions when you realize you don't understabd something, etc.

        In some classes, one or either of these strategies is enough. In many classes it's a lose-lose.

        • neurony says:

          I see your point, and I know that some instructors go unreasonably fast. My slides contain general bullets (or images). I first describe each bullet or image using the formal definition/concept, followed by additional elaboration in the form of study results or anecdotes. There are probably no more than 20 words (e.g., 4 bullets, 5 words each) on any one slide, and I spend probably 3-5 min per slide.

          I find that some students seem to think that they need to write down every word I say, which is in no way necessary. They have the bullets or images already (if they bothered to print the slides), so all they need to do is paraphrase the formal definition/concept, and maybe also make a quick note about the story/study result I used to illustrate the concept.

          Many of my undergrad profs used pre-written overheads (just like powerpoint :), and we figured out how to take notes concisely. It also helped tremendously if we actually read the text prior to the lecture, of course. I'm realistic enough to know that many of my students will never do the reading until just before an exam (if then), though. The question then becomes whether I should pitch the class to students who didn't read or print slides, or to the level of preparedness I think is reasonable for college students.

          I appreciate your comment - it reminded me to (1) monitor my pace, and (2) be really clear in explaining optimal note taking and other preparation at the beginning of the fall semester.

          • potnia theron says:

            This is one reason I used to do a lot of writing on overheads (and then powerpoints) - it made me go at rate at least in the ballpark of students.

            But for many classes - doing the reading *in advance* of class made the note-taking feasible.

  • --bill says:

    "Guided notes", I'm finding, are very useful. They don't have to write down everything but they have to write down the important stuff.

  • Marie says:

    My students don't like taking notes either, but I make them do it anyway by giving little surprise open-book quizzes here and there to make sure they have the information in their heads or their notes. I think we need to push back on their desire to sit passively through lectures. My children don't like eating vegetables, but I make them because it's for their own good. I treat my students the same way - with the understanding that I'm older and wiser and my lessons will teach them not just content but a bonus skill of how to learn.

    • potnia theron says:

      I have been criticized for spending time "on teaching them how to learn", despite the fact they obviously need it.

  • B. Kiddo says:

    I haven't given up on making the student take notes yet, when I'm teaching in a traditional lecture format. I do, however, write almost everything down that they need to write. I use the white board. A lot. That makes me go slowly enough that they have time to write it down, and it also means they can see my thought processes more explicitly, I think. I post my slides, but they are almost entirely graphics. Some students don't like it, but most actually do.

    I cannot cover much material when writing it all down on the white board, but I have the luxury of doing that, as I don't have a set curriculum as at a medical school.

    I'm holding on to my dinosaur ways a bit longer.

    • potnia theron says:

      Medical schools are more rigid, I think, certainly more organized and regulated.

    • gmp says:

      I do this, too. The lecture is me and a white board and markers; I draw and derive everything (physical science field) and they are free to interrupt me at any point. I repeatedly remind them that they need to take notes, and most of them really. I don't have too many people who sit back and listen with their arms crossed. There are some, thogh.

      Last semester one comment was about how it's stupid that "I just plaster the figures from the book out there" -- which I thought was very unfair, because I draw every single bit of everything myself in front of them, it's not like I project pictures. I am getting disillusioned with teaching actually, there is definitely a point after which the more time and effort you put in, the less you get back. Although most kids are wonderful, some are just dicks, even at the tender age of 19 or 20.

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